We need more student ministry in North America and around the world, not less. I could blog all day long hundreds of reasons why youth and ministry is increasingly vital, but in this post I want to address those passionate youth leaders out there who either want to pursue a vocation in youth work or student ministry, or those who want to be a durable volunteer in student ministry years to come. I’d like to name a real problem and offer a solution to it. The problem is trust.
We live in a world where trust is eroding. And when trust erodes institutions and cultures weaken. The prosperity of any culture is dependent on how much people trust one another. And since societies can find less and less to agree upon as “normal” you see trust wearing away decade after decade. I’ve oversimplified the problem, but in my view if you want to bring transformation to your city, you need to work on building trust.
Now of course, trust first starts with whether we are trustworthy. No longer do young people trust a teacher just because they are in the “position” of teacher. Even further, just because your organization has a history of trustworthiness, this no longer acts as a filter for people to trust the individuals who work with/for that organization. And unfortunately this trend is even beginning to be imposed on the church. This may seem overwhelming, but the good news is that trust is rebuilt one person at a time. And you are a vital stepping stone to revitalizing the foundation of “trust” in your neighborhood, city, etc.
DEMONSTRATE TRUST, DON’T UNDERMINE IT
To overcome the problem of skepticism and distrust here are a few suggestions that may help you. Some of these may seem odd, but from my perspective these are simple and effective ways to demonstrate authenticity so that you don’t have to waste unnecessary time overcoming people’s skepticism so you can get to work making disciples:
Use photos in your resume (if you are looking for a job) or photos in your social media presence that demonstrate trust. They need to look good but not too professional, and the picture needs to say, “I’m someone you can trust”… a photo is often the #1 thing that will cause people to extend trust to a mentor. They are looking for someone who seems happy but credible, and doesn’t have hidden agendas. Obviously none of us can fake this, so if you are struggling with your identity in Christ
, then obviously the place to start is to get fresh with Jesus so that your outward and inward persona match. Students especially can smell a lack of authenticity.
2. BE TRANSPARENT
You need to make sure that you value transparency, and you don’t feel the need to hide stuff. Ways to do this is to share your testimony, talk about your education, point people to your blog or if you have any publicly viewable websites or social media that people can check out, by all means tell folks about that.
3. EXPRESS YOUR INTEREST
Explain why you are interested in serving or working with a group of students. People deep down are wondering, “why do you want to do this?” So tell them. A good explanation is important… then volunteer your time to have a personal conversation with any of the parents, students or other stakeholders over the phone or video conference. Trust is earned when we make ourselves available to those who we are going to be mentoring. If they decide that you are not the guy or gal for this position, then you can smile and say with relief, “Well, I was myself, so thank you Jesus for protecting me from jumping into a situation where I would not be the right person for the job.”
4. NORMAL PEOPLE HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR
Humor is important with young people so encourage mentors to include a bit of humor in their background information so that they don’t seem to serious.
5. KEEP COMING BACK TO THE THREE ANGLES OF TRUST
In a triangle, it is the angles that hold the sides together. When the angle isn’t there, then the triangle loses its integrity. Trust is very similar. There are three building blocks to trust that you may want to prayerfully commit to when you are diving into student ministry. If you are going to be a student ministry leader, you need to offer to those you are leading: 1. regularity, 2. honesty, 3. and cooperative behavior. If you cannot commit to that kind of lifestyle of mentoring then you probably will not gain the trust and see the fruit that you want to see in ministry.
6. LOVE COMMUNITY
Especially for those working in parachurches, in order to build trust, you need to be an active member of a local church that has a reputation for trust in the community. You can also let people call the leaders in the church to get a reference letter for you. I would recommend including a section on your bio page (web) or resume that directly talks about your view and involvement in the local church. As trust erodes, even though people will still say that the church is “irrelevant”, the reality is that there are few other institutions that people will actually trust more than local churches. So you really need to ask yourself if you truly believe that the local church is God’s design to reach the world. Will you encourage those you are mentoring to get involved in their local church in some way? This will drastically improve your trust quotient.